Monthly Archives: December 2016

Work/Life Balance: The Elevator Energy Test

By Vahé Torossian, Corporate VP at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

[Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse]

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Throughout my career, I have been blessed to mentor some very talented people. No matter the region of the world — from France to the United States and Asia to Central and Eastern Europe — a topic that comes up with almost everyone I’ve mentored is how to find the right work/life balance.

It is a very personal question. Back when I first started at Microsoft in 1992, work/life balance was very different than it is today. If there was work to do, you stayed until it was completed (usually accompanied by a pizza). When you went home, it was easier to switch out of work mode because you didn’t have emails coming right to a mobile device in your pocket. You had to make a conscious choice to open up your briefcase or, later on, connect your modem and dial in to the Internet.

Today, finding balance can be extremely challenging, especially when our technology gives us the ability to do business from anywhere. It’s easy for work to enter our home lives unconsciously. You look at your phone, and before you know it your head is back in the office. This connectedness can really blur the lines between work and home, making it hard to focus on just one at a time.

I don’t claim to have the whole recipe for success. Rather, the right work/life balance depends on who you are as an individual and where you are in life. But I do have one trick I’ve been using for many years that helps me choose how I show up at work and how I show up at home: Every day, I commit to returning home with the same energy with which I left. The “elevator energy test” is my way of making sure I follow through on that commitment.

I developed this test for myself while living and working in Paris. I lived on the eighth floor of my building, and I’d take an elevator between my apartment and the basement garage where I parked my car. The inside of the elevator was covered in mirrors, so every morning while I descended to the basement, I’d take a good look at myself to honestly evaluate my energy level. I would actually go so far as to score my own energy level on a scale of one to 10. Then, after work, as I rode the elevator from the basement back up to my apartment, I would consciously recalibrate back to the number I had given myself in the morning so that I brought back home at least the same level of energy as I had when I left.

In my own experience, at the end of a long, hard day it was a great refresher for me to bring that vitality back to my spirit and demeanor. It felt great to leave the workday behind in the basement garage, and my family appreciated it too. When the elevator doors opened, I would enter my apartment and spend the rest of the evening with them — feeling just like the person who had said goodbye that morning. I am not saying it’s always easy, but this state of mind helped me a lot especially during tough times.

Of course, you don’t need an elevator to do this test. You can do it anytime, in all sorts of situations. For example, you can look at yourself in your rearview mirror before heading to work each morning and again before heading home each night. I do the test before and after a tough business review, receiving bad news or taking a long multi-country business trip — every situation that might take a toll on my energy.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be an energy giver and not an energy taker. And there is a certain discipline to living that way. It’s the same discipline I learned as an international rower, where I had to be fit and prepared not only to help my own performance, but also to help inspire energy in my teammates. I have found that sustaining that kind of discipline is hard, but I always try because I feel strongly that the people around me shouldn’t have to pay the price for me being off-balance — not my employees and especially not my family.

So, my advice to people who are looking for a better balance is to make it a conscious choice again. Try the elevator test. It works for me.

 

Vahé Torossian is a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corp. For 30 years he has driven business transformation and turnarounds in high-growth and economic crisis environments.

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Choosing Equanimity

By Chelsea Elkins, Program & Marketing Manager

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I’m not normally an angry person. Really.

But I’m also no stranger to the emotion. In a world rife with inequity, bias, and realities that can make the most patient of us want to scream, anger is not uncommon. When I’m in the throes of it, I can focus on nothing else (including effective solutions to the issue) and find that my productivity and longevity suffer.

I’ve been pondering the benefits of anger lately. How it can be a wakeup call. How it can create needed boundaries. Anger can be the spark – to start a revolution, to fight injustice, to say “enough”. But it cannot be the whole flame or we will burn out. While anger can trigger productivity, anger itself is inherently not a productive emotion. And for sustainable change to occur, I’d argue that anger must evolve – into whatever is needed: passionate organizing, relentless activism, a resolute boundary – because anger alone is not enough.

So how then do we turn our anger into something useful? I believe the answer is equanimity.

I recently spent a precious Saturday attending a dharma talk titled “Fierce Equanimity” through The Lotus Institute with Dr. Larry Ward and Dr. Peggy Rowe. The talk discussed how to relentlessly, fiercely display equanimity (or a calmness and evenness of mind and emotion) regardless of life’s circumstances.

This concept states that one can address and overcome challenge and injustice with equanimity in lieu of anger. Instead of rage, determination and perseverance may better serve us. Rather than shouting, a calm but resounding “no” can be just as effective. In exchange for riots, nonviolent protests can mobilize a community. Our middle fingers can be playful instead of aggressive (kidding). This way of being suggests we can combat hate with a fierce and stubborn gratitude.

Still with me?

I heard a powerful idea at The Lotus Institute regarding the non-personalization of experience. In other words, anger is not ours to possess. It’s not a toy, cell phone, or piece of clothing that we can claim as belonging to us. It is an unfettered, volatile (and hopefully transient) response that everyone from all walks of life has experienced. This means that since we can’t actually own anger, it doesn’t own us either.

One of the many benefits of equanimity is that it encompasses inclusivity. It transcends “otherness”. It’s an encouragement to try to understand the “humanness” that is always present behind an act of hateful rhetoric. Inclusivity is one of the most effective ways to deflate an anger bubble – because it does away with the us vs. them notion. Equanimity means objectively asking yourself, “What in my life needs to be nourished? And what needs to be de-nourished?” It’s critically looking at societal systems and asking “What here needs to be legitimized? What needs to be de-legitimized?” And based on your answers, acting accordingly.

I want to go on the record and say that letting go of anger and embracing equanimity does not mean succumbing to passivity. Quite the opposite – equanimity often means being part of a slow-moving force, but one that is startling in its power and lasting in its effect. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, “I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.” Dr. King is in my mind a model for equanimity. Though he had a lifelong dedication to nonviolence (an important component of equanimity), not one could call him a passive force. Rather, he heeded the call to remain collected and compassionate in the long fight for social change – to powerful results. If anger is the blinding flare, then equanimity is the slow burn that drives us day in and day out.

Passivity in the face of injustice is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is often the companion to apathy and ignorance, and enables the normalization of inequity. Passivity often stems from exclusivity, us vs. them. The funny thing is exclusivity (and therefore passivity) is illogical when accompanied with the awareness that most people desire the same things. We are all on a quest to find happiness, to find fulfillment, to find peace. But, as Dr. Ward asked that Saturday, find peace to do what? Find happiness to do what in the world?

I believe deep down we all know the answers (which are different for each of us). With equanimity, perhaps we can start to ask the right questions.

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The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

This is about the myths and misconceptions surrounding the many interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities we face each day, often referred to as this thing called “work-life balance.”

When it comes to this thing called work-life balance…

The First Truth

You can define work-life balance however you want.

There are a lot of ways to talk about this concept, but only one way that feels right for you.

And please, use your own WORDS to define the details of what it means to you.

Most people share a similar desire, which is to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities that make up life.

That said, there are as many ways as there are people on the planet to describe what living a balanced life would feel like. When it comes to balance, everybody has their own idea of what is comfortable, tolerable, and acceptable.

There is no right or wrong way to define balance. It is what it is for you and for you alone.

The Second Truth

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

This is just the way the world works.

Things like new jobs, new relationships, new homes, new roles, new hobbies, births, deaths, and health (yours and others’) will all impact your needs for balance.

Your needs for balance will forever be evolving.

Your secret power is in recognizing and accepting that what you need now, in this moment, is very different than what you will need 12 months from now or one, five, seven, or 10 years from now.

Once you have accepted that your needs will change, it becomes about knowing and understanding your needs, making choices that support your needs, and communicating your needs with the important people in your life.

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

Acknowledging and accepting accountability for your needs, wants, and desires is your secret power.

The Third Truth

Work-life balance has nothing to do with work.

Not the type of work you do…

We all have responsibilities that can be considered work. Whether you get paid for what you do or not. More than that, balance has nothing to do with your gender, family structure, parental status, religion, education, income, or geographic location.

Work-life balance is not about any of these things specifically — it’s mostly about the type of conversations we have or the conversations we avoid having about these things, as well as our feelings about the impact of these things on our lives.

Most of the issues we attribute to being “out of balance” at work or at home can be traced back to (and resolved through) a conversation — to be specific, an authentic conversation. (You know, the kind where you say what you REALLY mean.)

What gets us in trouble and keeps us busy and disengaged are the conversations we are NOT having with our boss, our business partners, our customers, our friends, our significant others, our children, and — especially — ourselves.

It’s possible that 99% of the time, these conversations we are not having are about the triggers that are causing the imbalance in our life.

These triggers, most times, boil down to your values and the boundaries (or lack of boundaries) that support and honor your values in all the relationships you are in:

the relationship you have with work,

relationships you have with others (in and out of work),

and the relationship you have with yourself.

Why are so many people not having these types of conversations?

The answer is simple. In most cases, it boils down to fear: Fear of rejection. Fear of being perceived as “less than.”

Fear of failing. Fear of asking for help. Fear of being different. Fear of actually being perceived as both balanced and successful.

Sometimes these conversations that we avoid are about saying no (and our fear of saying no).

Saying no to someone at work or someone you love might let them down, and no one wants to let anyone down, especially on purpose.

Let’s be honest: It’s easier to say no to your own needs than to disappoint someone else. (Even if it means disappointing yourself.)

When you say yes to people, requests, and projects, that are in conflict with your values, or when you engage with people who do not support — or even worse, who disrespect — your values, you are actually saying “no” to yourself and creating imbalance in your life.

work-life balance has nothing to do with work. It’s about authentically owning and clearly communicating your yes’s and no’s to the people WHO share your life.

(which includes yourself)

The Fourth Truth

Creating balance is free. (Great news — because everyone loves free!)

When it comes to creating work-life balance, you don’t have to…

These are all options you can choose — but you don’t have to do any of them. The only thing you have to do is choose balance as a lifestyle.

Okay, so you make the choice — you want balance.

Then what?

Start small. Pay attention more.

Many people don’t spend much time where they are. They are either still thinking about where they have been or thinking about where they will be — which robs them of being where they are when they are there. The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor have equal access to the currency of presence.

There is no cost whatsoever to being present.

It’s free to pay attention to your environment and see and feel as much (or as little) of the experience that you want. It’s free to pay attention to the people and the relationships in your life — to slow down, to really hear what is being said, and to notice what is not being said. It’s free to pay attention to you. Your body, your feelings, your wants, your desires, and especially, your thoughts.

We have all experienced this thing called presenteeism.

This is when you show up physically, but not mentally. The impact is that you are unable to be in the moment and contribute your best, because you are distracted about whatever might happen in the future or are reliving what has happened in the past.

(It’s okay — we’ve all done it, and will do it again, because sometimes that’s just what happens.)

Odds are you already have a pretty great life. Paying more attention might make it feel even better. Connecting to what you already have is free. It’s the disconnection that can cost you dearly.

The Fifth Truth

The choice is yours to create balance each day.

It’s your choice to define what balance means to you.

It’s your choice to accept that there will be times of greater imbalance.

It’s your choice to own and authentically express your yes’s and no’s.

It’s your…

Some days you might make choices that support your definition of balance, and other days you might make choices that sabotage the type of balance you are seeking.

The magic is that every single day, the choice is yours to make again, and again, and again.

The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance are SIMPLE:

  1. You can define work-life balance however you want.
  2. You will be in and out of balance your entire life.
  3. Balance has nothing to do with work.
  4. Creating Balance is free.
  5. The choice is yours to create balance each day.

What you choose to do with these truths is up to you. The choice is yours.

 

The Five Truths About Work Life-Balance is available on Amazon.

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